They have witnessed their crop wither away in drought in the last four decades, but now the villagers of Saurashtra region in Gujarat are hoping to get water for cultivation from an ambitious irrigation project launched by Narendra Modi when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat in September 2012.
Prime Minister Modi is to launch the first phase of the Saurashtra Narmada Avtaran Irrigation (SAUNI) Project on August 30 in Rajkot at Aji III dam. The first phase will help around 105 villages — covering about 47,943 hectare of land of Saurashtra region – get water.
Thanks to the scheme, farmers who earlier used to grow crops only during the Rabi season – sown in winter and harvested in spring – will now be able to grow crops during the Kharif season – the monsoon season.
The SAUNI project, a mega irrigation pipeline network to collect the surplus water of Narmada river from the Sardar Sarovar dam, is aimed to irrigate12 lakh hectares of the arid Saurashtra region when fully completed.
Gopal Bhai Patel, 52, a resident of Bagthala village in Morbi district of Saurashtra, told the visiting IANS correspondent: "We have faced drought for decades, and this SAUNI project pipeline is a boon for us."
Gopal Bhai Patel has about 40 bighas of land which has seen drought almost every year.
The farmers of the region mainly produce groundnut, cotton and wheat. The low rainfall has led to heavy losses in farming.
"Due to the drought-like situation, our per bigha of land produced only eight quintals of cotton, while in good rains the yield goes up to 22 quintals per bigha," Gopal Bhai Patel said.
"We are hopeful the SAUNI project will fulfill our requirement of irrigation water," he added.
Due to drought, most of the farmers in nearby areas have taken up work in tile-making or diamond-polishing factories.
"After the successive droughts in the last four to five years, we were forced to opt for another profession," Hashmukh Bhai Patel said.
Superintending Engineer of the Rajkot Irrigational Project Circle, H.U. Kalyani told IANS, "We have completed Phase One in record time of two years."
"Through this project, the excess water of the Narmada which earlier would drain into the Arabian Sea, will now be diverted to the Saurashtra region wherever there is requirement of water," Kalyani said.
"With completion of 57-km pipeline of the first phase about 6,474 million cubic feet of water would be shared with farmers of the region," Kalyani said.
The project is divided in four trunk Lines – Line I, II, III and IV – to take water to 115 dams spread across all 11 districts of the Saurashtra region and provide water to over 900 villages.
Explaining the project, a senior official told IANS that the network of canals in Saurashtra region would be connected to the 115 dams through pipelines and it will also release water to over 87 rivers.
The official said that Phase Two and Phase Three would be completed by December 2019.
A.D. Kanani Superintending Engineer of the Salinity Ingress Prevention Circle told IANS: "Once the Phase one of all the four lines get operational, it would benefit about 163 villages of Saurashtra region."
"The tender for phase two of Line I has also been floated and its work would be completed by the end of 2017," the officer added.